Ohio voters will decide in November whether to amend their state Constitution to establish a right to abortion, after state officials said on Tuesday that proponents had submitted over 495,000 valid signatures from voters, more than enough to put the question on the ballot.
Supporters of the measure still face another hurdle. Republicans in the state legislature want to make the amendment harder to approve, and have put up a ballot question of their own that would raise the threshold of voters required to amend the state constitution to 60 percent instead of a simple majority. That question is on the ballot in a special election on Aug. 8; early voting on that amendment is already in progress.
In a statement Tuesday, Lauren Blauvelt and Lauren Beene of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, the coalition behind the ballot measure, hailed the announcement.
“Every person deserves respect, dignity, and the right to make reproductive health care decisions, including those related to their own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion free from government interference,” they said in the statement. “Now that the petition drive is complete, we’re eager to continue the campaign to enshrine those rights in Ohio’s Constitution and ensure that Ohioans will never again be subject to draconian reproductive health care policies imposed by extremists.”
Abortion rights advocates have put increasing hopes on state ballot measures in the year since the Supreme Court reversed of Roe v. Wade, which for five decades established a national right to abortion. They are encouraged by public opinion polls showing that most Americans — and a majority in all but a few states — think abortion should be legal in at least some cases. A USA Today Network/Suffolk University poll in early July found that 58 percent of likely voters in Ohio backed the amendment establishing a right to abortion, with 32 percent opposed.
Supporters of abortion rights prevailed in six out of six measures on ballot measures that were put to voters last year, including those in conservative states like Kentucky and Kansas. But none of those measures received more than 60 percent of the vote. Anti-abortion lawmakers and groups are trying to stay one step ahead by trying to making measures harder to place on the ballot or to pass.
Ohio has become a test case.
The state’s Republican-led legislature passed a law in 2019 that would ban abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant — with exceptions to save the life of the mother or to prevent “major impairment” of a bodily function, but not for rape or incest. That law took effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, but a county court judge put a hold on it, leaving abortion legal in Ohio until 22 weeks.
The ballot measure on abortion would amend the Ohio Constitution to add a right much like the one that was protected by Roe. It would establish a right to abortion, but allow the state to prohibited the procedure after the fetus would be viable outside the womb, generally around 23 or 24 weeks. It would also allow limits on abortion before viability, as long as those laws used the “least restrictive means to advance the individual’s health” according to “widely accepted and evidence-based standards of care.”
The question on the Aug. 8 special-election ballot would raise the threshold of yes votes necessary to amend the constitution to 60 percent. Proponents of future amendments would have to collect signatures from at least 5 percent of the voters in all 88 of the state’s counties; under current law, they only need 5 percent of voters in half the counties. And the measure would do away with a 10-day “curing” period that allows proponents to collect additional signatures to make up for any that authorities strike as invalid.
The Republican-led legislature passed a law earlier this year banning most August elections, saying they were needlessly expensive and had such low turnout that they were anti-democratic. Mr. LaRose, the secretary of state, himself had testified that they allowed “just a handful of voters” to make weighty decisions.
But the legislature approved a special election in August this year for the sole purpose of considering a constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult to propose and pass other amendments. A simple majority is required to enact it.
Though Republicans have said the move was aimed directly at blocking abortion rights, the language on the special-election ballot does not include the word “abortion.” That may make it difficult for supporters of abortion rights to rally their voters, especially in the dog days of summer.
Backers of the abortion rights amendment submitted a total of roughly 710,000 signatures collected from all 88 counties. Under current state law, they needed 413,466 valid signatures for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.